How do I know when I should have a lawyer assist me with something versus when I can handle it myself?
This is a question we encounter more frequently, as search engines and generative AI tools try to establish themselves as comprehensive repositories of information. Can these tools, in some instances, act as substitutes for legal professionals?
In discussing this very question with Randy Witten, a Caravel corporate and commercial lawyer, the proverb “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing” came up early. While having easy access to knowledge through the internet is valuable, online tools and information sources are inadequate substitutes for trained legal professionals.
There are two broad skills that legal training and years of experience establish and foster:
- Knowledge of law and how to research law; and
Key components of these skills include:
- Risk Assessment: Lawyers understand the art of what issues to address and what issues not to address, especially when it comes to contracts and other documents. Part of that art involves identifying what might be missing from and what to add to a contract, for example. Lawyers are equipped to make those assessments and advise you accordingly.
- Strategic Communication: How to best communicate with other parties is something else that lawyers can assess, Sometimes it’s best for clients to negotiate directly with each other, but other times it may be best for clients to let their lawyers handle negotiations.
- Objectivity: Lawyers take a reasoned approach that prioritizes clarity and your best interests, without being influenced by emotion or bias.
- Consigliere role: Randy shared an anecdote about a mentor who often referred to lawyers as their clients’ consiglieres. Of course, in this context, the consigliere role differs from the role in The Godfather. Generally, the point is that lawyers are loyal and trusted advisors who take into account the big picture in looking out for their clients’ best interests, and who are not afraid to tell clients what they need to hear.
- Qualification: The general public simply does not have the knowledge and training to handle legal writing, especially “boilerplate” or more niche, complex clauses – e.g., indemnity, limitation of liability, default/termination, confidentiality, assignment, governing law/jurisdiction, arbitration, force majeure. You need legal training to know how to effectively understand, draft and negotiate these clauses. It is not enough for you to simply plug in scenario-specific details; lawyers are trained in the language of contracts and other legal documents, and therefore in determining what details to include and how and where to include them.
- Credibility Assessment: Information available on the Internet is only as valuable as its sources are credible, and it is subject to users’ ability to ascertain value and credibility. This applies to document templates just like it applies to online news. Furthermore, as we’ve learned, AI tools are known to rely on out-of-date information and to even make up incorrect information.
Relying on the above skills and a lawyer’s solution-oriented, analytical, thorough and detail-oriented approach will ensure your business’s well-being. Attempting to replicate the work of a lawyer without the correct training can create vulnerabilities, inconsistencies and errors.
Does this mean I must always consult a lawyer for legal issues?
As lawyers often say, it depends. Context is key.
You may have day-to-day operational matters that initially require a lawyer’s involvement, but which a business team member might be able to later manage. For example, it may be in your business’s best interests to have a lawyer draft/review an employment agreement, a non-disclosure agreement, or another frequently-used contract. In the future, it might be sufficient for you to reuse that contract as a template, by inserting the applicable details without a lawyer’s involvement.
The key, however, is recognizing when circumstances change and new issues arise such that a lawyer’s input would be appropriate. Your business operations are not cookie-cutter, and so a cookie-cutter approach will not usually “cut it”. When in doubt, it is better to rely on the judgement of a lawyer than to attempt to do it alone.
Lawyers are exceptional resources; you should leverage their skills for the benefit of your business! If you find yourself going to Google to advise on legal problems, that’s a good indicator that you need a legal professional’s advice.
Have legal questions you need addressed? Caravel Law brings top-quality legal services to businesses of all sizes. Get in touch with us today to find out more.